State minimum wage increases and paid sick leave now required

Beginning Jan. 1, Washington state’s minimum wage increased to $11.50 an hour and employees are now eligible to earn paid sick leave per the guidelines laid out by Initiative 1433. This is a 50 cent increase from last year’s $11 hourly wage. Cities like Seatac and Tacoma have also increased their minimum wage.

Washington State voters approved I-1433 in 2016 which laid out a plan to increase state minimum wages over a four year period. The initiative also added that employers would eventually provide paid sick leave for employees.

The city of Tacoma’s minimum wage is now $12 an hour. This is the final direct increase in wages in a series of yearly increases to the city minimum wage that was approved by voters back in 2015. The initiative, Measure No. 1b, was approved by 75 percent of voters, and adds that starting in 2019 city minimum wage will be determined by the rate of inflation. These increases affect all UW Tacoma employees.

Some workers are already feeling the changes go into effect. Sarah Rhoads, a freshman who works at Target, explains how the increase has already helped her.

“I’m trying to pay for school while attending,” Rhoads explained. “The increased minimum wage has already helped me save and put more money towards my education and future. Even though it’s only a dollar an hour more, I think that difference can really add up fast.”

Critics of the increase are wary that there could be several long-term economic problems created by an increase in minimum wage. Problems such as an increase on the price of consumer goods, the availability of part-time jobs and a fear that companies will need to switch to automation to keep costs down are all potential worries.

Garret Bergquist, a freshman who works as welder, shares a similar concern with the increases in minimum wage.

“As far as how the change affects me, it hasn’t,” Bergquist said. “I still make the same amount of money as before. I think it will help initially those who are currently working at minimum wage, but after a period of time I am sure there will be an increase of the price of consumer goods. Basically, the higher minimum wage gets, then consumer goods will probably inflate at a similar rate.”

Along with the state increase in minimum wage, employers are now also required to provide all employees — which includes part-time and seasonal workers — paid sick leave. Employers must provide at least one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours of work.

I-1433 requires employers to pay employees who use paid sick leave their normal hourly wages. It also ensures that unused hours roll over to next year for employees who have 40 or less hours of sick leave. As these are the minimum requirements, employers can be generous with the way hours are accrued or how many hours carry over to the next year.

Employees may use paid sick leave if they themselves are ill or if a family member is sick. They may also use it if their work or child’s school is shut down by public officials for health violations. Additionally, if an employee who qualifies for Washington State’s Domestic Violence Leave Act takes a leave of absence, then they may use paid sick days for these reasons. Individual employers may expand upon this and allow for other reasons to use paid sick leave.